Monday, January 28, 2013

Digger Farm

The Free Farm has been hoppin' with activity recently, despite it being winter time. The weather has been pretty fantastic.  On Wednesday I got to the  Free Farm early because I really wanted to plant the bare root strawberry plants that we got free. Once I got there I realized that the project was much bigger than I thought if I were to do it right.  Not only did I want to plant the new strawberries, but the old ones needed to be taken up...they loose their vigor  after 2-3 years and the way they were planted in the first place  made the hard to harvest. After thinking about the design of the new strawberry bed I came up with the idea of making a hugelkultur bed. Almost everyone I tell them about the hugelkultur idea  they say "what?".  I heard about the idea from a man named David Mudge whom I met last year at the 2012 scion wood exchange  and is involved with the who is  Martinez Permaculture Center across the bay. Looking it up online I got the basic idea of creating a raised bed with very wood material that eventually breaks down into compost. I was eager to get rid of our pile of woody materials (though we didn't have any real logs), so my idea was to use it in a hugelkultur bed: Bury it part way, add some vegetable scraps, fresh green weeds, and manure. Then put the dirt back on the pile and then on top of that add compost and then plant the strawberries. I wasn't sure how many volunteers would show up I jumped right in  It turned out a good number of people showed up, more than we have had in a while and a group of people got the job done by the end of the day (short of  actually planting the strawberries).  On Saturday again I started early, terracing the area around the raised bed we built on Wednesday. A young man showed up to help which was really great. He actually came by on Wednesday as I was opening the gate. He said he had been sleeping in the parking lot next door where the boarded up buildings were that the Occupiers occupied for a while and that he stashed his sleeping bag and a bag of clothes in the greenhouse so they wouldn't get wet (it looked like it may rain).
Here are some photos of the project:
Besides planting the strawberries on Saturday, we had our Tu B"shvat tree planting. Thanks to Congregation Emanu-El who paid for the trees and Friends of the Urban Forest working with the Department of the Environment, we put 8 trees in the ground. We had one of the largest turn-outs in a year...about 30 people showed up to help out. It was a real blast! We planted three apple trees, two Asian Pears, two plum trees, and a male and female Sea Berry.
 we cut the trees after they were planted to about
 knee high to keep them growing less tall
 how cool it is to have kids planting trees!

 this one is going to be growing flat against the wall

Our seed order arrived and I can't wait to start planting! In the coming weeks we will be planting peppers, tomatoes, basil, squash, kale, and lettuce, plus other things too. We also have potatoes to put in the ground, and trees to graft (hopefully we will do some grafting next week). It's going to be a great year so please come out some work day and join us.

Our blog over at , this week I share the  inspiration that I got from the Diggers of San Francisco (who turned me on to the 1649 Diggers of England). When we first started the farm we were thinking of names and one that came up was the Digger Farm. I still like that name and though I don't like plowing and digging up our vegetable beds too much, and I continue to be inspired by Ruth Stout who promoted the no dig garden method and Masanobu Fukuoka and his One Straw Revolution. But like this week, once in a while all the shovels come out of the shed and us Free Farmers have to dig...dig holes for trees and dig to redo a strawberry bed. So "You Diggers all stand up for glory. Stand up now." (from the song World Turned Upside Down by Leon Rosselson.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Free Farm Forest

I missed the workday on Saturday because I attended the yearly Scion Wood Exchange held by our local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. I enjoy going every year just to meet old and new fruit growing friends and to pick up some scion wood to graft and root to make new trees. I also brought a fig from our tree to get help identifying it and I learned that it is Black Jack like I thought.

Planting trees is one of the best things we can do for our planet right now. A great way to feel hope for the future is by planting a tree. This coming Saturday we will be joining hearts and hands with Congregation Emanu-El and Friends of the Urban Forest and we will plant about 8 fruit trees at the farm. The workday begins the same time as usual 10am-2pm, but the tree planting and the  Tu B'shvat (New Year for the Trees)  celebration officially begins at 1pm. This Saturday it would help if you are coming for our vegan volunteer lunch at noon to let us know if possible before hand. Also, we just got more free strawberry plants and we are going to be reworking our strawberry beds starting this week. Plus I hope to get some grafting in and will show anyone that is around how I do it.

We had a lot of produce at the Sunday Free Farm Stand, mostly greens that looked delicious and peppers from the hot house.

these are kale seedlings we grew at the Fee Farm and we gave them away at the Sunday Free Farm Stand

One last bit of news, apparently the future developers of our Free Farm land have signed documents proving they have the funds to complete the project, so the next step is for an environmental impact report. The guess when we might have to leave is 1 1/2-2 years. We need an angel.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Free Farm Frenzy

We are are all back from our vacations and the farm is now open on Saturdays and Wednesday as usual.  The greens are growing great, they sweeten up in the cold and we have lettuces under small hoops with special cloth over them, originally to keep the birds from eating them, but now keeping them warm.

We have trays of lettuce in the greenhouse that we plan to harvest soon as baby salad mix. The peppers in the hothouse from last year are still  growing (we just harvested more of them)and we also  harvested a lot of lettuce from there too.
I have pulled out the seed catalogs and soon we will be ordering seed for the coming new year.

Thanks to a generous $2,500 grant from the Bill Graham Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, the Free Farm and the Free Farm Stand will have some money to buy seeds and supplies for our projects this year. We have also gotten a little money from private donors which we are so grateful for too. We continue to believe in the idea of "free" as in not engaging in the selling of produce and seedlings and we only buy when we can't get something for free. It is a challenge these days when the idea of gentle and kind capitalism keeps popping up everywhere and is very popular. Today I even saw the return of the phrase right livelihood mentioned in a plug for a presentation on "Permaculture Business Innovation" by a man  whom I respect a lot Kevin Bayuk.  If we want to adopt permaculture in our lives I would argue that the patterns I see in nature have nothing to do with a system of commerce and linear exchange, do monkeys barter  bananas with each other? Maybe they do and I don't know about it. The patterns in nature are ones of awe and mystery and miraculous and divine.We just have to live our lives with faith and not worry about getting something for everything we give, which to me is the basis of our current system of living our lives and doing business.

We do rely more on volunteers more than on money and for a few months we have seen our numbers drop. Is it because of the weather or we have become less popular over time (the thrill is gone phenomena with new projects)? I know people are scrambling just to get by and people often only volunteer if they are unemployed and need something to do.

I  hope this year we are able to bring back the volunteer labor force, because as our soil keeps growing the plants will keep growing. We especially are in the need for more people that can take on leadership tasks. We have a lot of areas that could use a person or a team to steward or anchor: the container garden, the herb labrynith, the vegetable beds, the permanent plantings (we are planing on planting more permanent crops in the future and creating more of a "food forest" on site, the greenhouse and plant propagation, and  flower production.

I have been thinking that what our farm lacks right now that might help us manifest more of what we need at the farm is a farm alter. This is a shout out request for people with any spare deities around that they can put on our altar, yet to be created, please we can use them. The Free Farm supports all forms of worship and we especially give thanks to our pollinators, birds, and micro-organisms in the soil. And the volunteers and guests who drop by.  They are all holy!

This coming Saturday I won't be at the farm but attending this fun event:

Golden Gate CRFG 25th Annual 2013 Fruit Wood
Scion Exchange:
DATE: Saturday, January 19, 2013
TIME: 12:00 Exchange opens to CRFG
members and the public
12:15 & 12:50 Grafting demonstrations
12:30 Custom rootstock grafting begins
2:00 Plant drawing
3:00 Exchange closes
3:00 - 4:00 Exchange cleanup
LOCATION: Ed Roberts Campus
3075 Adeline Street
Berkeley, CA
(at the Ashby BART station)
Donation Requested
(to help pay for the room): $4/person

If anyone wants to go with me I would love some company and plus I am bringing some plants to share and some materials to pass out about our projects (I could use some help carrying stuff on Bart since I would prefer not to drive).

On Saturday January 26 we will be having a special tree planting event in conjunction with Friends of the Urban Forest and Congregation Emanu-El. We will be celebrating the Jewish holiday, Tu B’Shvat or the New Year for the Trees. The main tree planting will begin at 1pm, but other farm activities begin at 10am. If you plan to come to our vegan lunch that day please RSVP at our email address and let us know so we can make enough.